Celebrating 20 Years of the River Cities’ Reader PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Written by Kathleen McCarthy and Todd McGreevy   
Thursday, 14 November 2013 09:18

Twenty years of questioning the status quo and providing readers with exhaustive resources and perspectives on all things cultural in the Quad Cities merits some reflection and review. We continue to publish the River Cities’ Reader because it is fulfilling and meaningful.

The Reader is independently owned and operated. It started as a monthly newsprint publication, with a regional circulation in Iowa and Illinois – from Galena to Iowa City to Cedar Rapids to Muscatine to, of course, the Quad Cities. After 20 issues, we reined in our distribution to the Quad Cities and immediate outlying areas. This was 1995, and we made the plunge to publish weekly and lived up to the promise of “Every Wednesday Everywhere” for 13 years. We starting publishing our content on the World Wide Web in 1996 at RCReader.com.

In 2008, the Reader was not impervious to the financial meltdown that contributed to the shuttering of century-old newspapers across the country. While some papers were closing their doors, we cut back on some staffing, and shifted to an every-other-week publishing schedule. The Reader print edition has been distributed at more than 800 locations in the Quad Cities region every other Thursday since January 2009.

This shift included a re-dedication to the Reader’s digital offerings. While the Reader’s printed frequency was cut in half, our team transformed the weekly print-deadline grind into daily content postings to the RCReader.com Web site, reminding readers of all the latest greatest offerings with a weekly e-mail subscription.

It’s no secret that we achieve a lot with a small staff. This is evident not only with the rich Web content but also with the supplementary products we publish.

The Quad Cities Dining Guide (published in print every six months) is the region’s definitive source on dining out, with refreshed listings on every single restaurant in the area. The Dining Guide is inserted into the Reader every six months, and the overrun of issues is hard to keep on the stands until the next one comes out. The Quad Cities is fortunate to have a great variety of dining options, and the guide is effective in helping readers make decisions whether they know what they’re hungry for or are looking to be inspired to try something new. QuadCitiesDiningGuide.com as a stand-alone site is now live and boasts a mobile- and tablet-friendly interface, as well as a searchable database of more than 700 restaurants by name, cuisine, city, and keywords. Whether you want to know what a location’s hours are, or if it has Wi-Fi, or if it has outdoor seating, the Quad Cities Dining Guide lives up to the Reader’s reputation as an exhaustive resource.

Speaking of exhaustive, from the very beginning, one of the the Reader’s differentials has been the comprehensive events calendar. There are a handful of contenders in the area, but none can keep up with the inclusiveness, accuracy, and detail found in the Reader events calendar. Mike Schulz is our calendar assassin, and his dedication to greatness is hugely appreciated. The Dining Guide’s magazine booklet format was received so well by readers that we decided to publish our longstanding quarterly event guide in booklet format, beginning with the Fall Guide and now with the Winter Guide, which you will find inserted into the edition you are reading now. With more than 1,000 events listed – from concerts and festivals to art exhibits and theatrical productions to children’s activities and academic lectures – readers will have a hard time claiming there is nothing to do if they have this guide in hand.

We realize that a younger audience of new readers is more likely to access the Reader’s events calendars in a digital format rather than in print. That’s why since 2009, we’ve published the events calendar online in a database that is searchable by date, venue, category, and keyword. Moreover, the online calendar is shareable with friends via text, e-mail, and all sorts of social media. Plus, readers can add events from our online calendar to their own digital calendars and even set up reminders via text or e-mail, as well as alerts should any event details get changed. If you have not tried the online calendar yet, be sure to surf to RCReader.com/calendar today.

Most consumers default to pigeon-holing a media outlet either by its format (daily paper, talk radio, nightly broadcast news) or its coverage (music rag, left or right propaganda organ). While we have remained true to the relatively broad content-coverage categories of business, politics, arts and culture, the Reader continually frustrates its critics who can’t readily stereotype our content, inclinations, or perceived agenda. We are criticized as often for being a liberal rag as we are of being a right-wing one. So we must be doing something right.

“Are you an arts and entertainment rag, or are you a civic watchdog?” is a question we have heard many times over the years. “We’re both” is the accurate response. The establishment media continually struggles for a credible reputation on these fronts, and more, every day. The Reader’s niche continues to include media-savvy consumers who seek out perspectives unavailable in the compromised mainstream media. In addition to being the go-to source for what is new, what’s happening, and ideas for things to do, we’ve tackled some of the area’s toughest political topics, both locally and nationally.

These include ill-begotten referendum-driven agendas such as county-jail expansions, city entitlement programs, and blank-check construction projects. We haven’t won many friends when nearly every major employer, academic, utility, government institution, and chamber of commerce is cheerleading and financially backing big-ticket taxpayer-funded projects and we take a critical, thorough, and balanced approach to the pros and cons. It’s not a journalistic model that any other media in town lives by. Yes, occasionally one of the establishment media will take a measured approach to the controversial initiatives, but that is only after public awareness has risen to a point that forces such an atypical effort.

We’re certainly not claiming we have tackled every difficult topic out there; we are not a large enough organization. But we are proud of the bar our team has set. And that journalistic standard is primarily due to the efforts of our managing editor, Jeff Ignatius. Jeff, who started in 2000, is very skilled at multi-perspective analysis and keeping the coverage balanced. We often say to folks who ask us to cover a certain topic, “Are you sure you are ready for Jeff to take a look at this?” Jeff is able to take complex details and distill them down into a readily understood, compelling, and easy-to-read narrative. Additionally, Jeff’s penchant for getting inside the heads of musicians and artists has resulted in some of the more insightful interviews and reviews available. He’s a talent we are fortunate to have at the Reader and in this community.

Speaking of talent, Mike Schulz wears many hats at the Reader, and he wears them well. Besides being our dutiful calendar and arts editor since 2005, Mike has been writing the Reader’s movie reviews since 1995, and he was its primary theatre critic for five years. Movies and plays are a natural area of expertise for Mike and he, like the rest of us, has made nearly as many foes as friends from his no-holds-barred critiques of our local and regional theatre productions. While he stepped down from the theatre-critic role now that he is directly involved in acting in and producing theatrical productions, he continues to edit the reviews. And Mike’s index of movie reviews (at RCReader.com/movies/movie-review-index) continues to grow weekly – with links to more than 1,000 reviews written since early 2000. We get feedback about his take on the big screen that ranges from “I have to have a dictionary when I read his reviews” to “He’s the best movie critic anywhere and gives you useful insight into even the bad movies.” Sadly for some, Mike won’t be implementing a stars ranking system any time soon.

The Reader’s financial model is driven by paid advertising. Thus, the paper and Web-site content are free to our readers, who are our number-one audience. Our smart and loyal readership is what is attractive to our advertising clients. With more advertising outlets available to business owners than ever, we are fortunate to have the dedicated and talented team in our sales and graphics department. Ad sales is no easy career path, no matter what medium, and Roseanne Terrill’s smiling and ebullient attitude is the real deal. Keeping everyone on deadline is an endless task, and producing creative ads that get results under such pressure is not for everyone, either. Nathan Klaus steps up to the task each week with a patient and helpful phone manner, while still managing to create ads that clients love.

Stringing it all together so readers can have a printed copy in their hands to read and share with others is our art director, Shawn Eldridge. Shawn has been ensuring that our final product reaches the printer since 2006. While it is undoubtedly easier to do things oneself, Shawn has fostered an impressive legacy of graphic-design and layout interns. Over the years, he has provided mentoring and hands-on teaching that have helped dozens get hired at other publishing houses, graphics shops, and more. His patient and unflappable demeanor is a valuable asset in a world where things are constantly changing.

Of course, the key to any complimentary newspaper’s success is distribution. One can publish the greatest content in the world, but if it’s not readily available, then all is for naught. We’ve had our share of rack wars over the years and continue to fend off wanna-be’s every day, but the Reader’s extensive distribution network remains unmatched thanks to our circulation manager, Rick Martin. Rick started in 2001 and has managed a stable of loyal and dedicated drivers as well as maintained excellent relations with the more than 800 locations where readers seek out and pick up the Reader. Jay Strickland has been distributing the Reader longer than anyone, having started in 1997, and he’s stepped up to every task he’s been asked to help with. We’re also thankful for the crew that has been with us for 10 years, ensuring the paper gets delivered, come hell or high-water: Robert Hughes, Cheri Delay, Greg Fitzpatrick, Dan Levensen, and William Cook.

We are even prouder of the Reader today than we were when we first started, just the two of us – in an empty warehouse with no heat – 20 years ago. We’ve come a long way from cutting and pasting with scissors and glue to searchable online databases.

But the Reader would not be around if it were not for you, the reader. And we thank you most especially, for your feedback and support two decades into this journey of bringing you content that challenges the status quo and hopefully makes a difference where you live, work, and play.

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